Alright, it’s future tech time. Cars today are more high-tech, complicated and durable than at any point in automotive history. And like with any forward-looking industry, the automotive sector is always finding ways to cram more innovation into the vehicles we drive. As engineers work on electric cars and self-driving cars, they are also hard at work on a slew of technologies that, by 2020, will make the vehicles we drive true marvels of futuristic engineering. Here is a list of 10 far out technologies coming to cars everywhere in the next five years.
15. Smartwatch Integration
Being able to use a smartwatch on your wrist to control your car is closer than you think. Currently, there are a number of apps available that allow people to use their smartphone to perform functions with their car, including unlocking the doors and sounding the alarm. But engineers at automotive companies are now looking at smartwatches and wearable technology to help remotely control vehicles. At Hyundai, for example, they are using Android Wear apps to enable people to perform a number of remote automotive features, including starting and shutting off the engine, locking and unlocking the doors, flashing the lights and sounding the horn and alarm. The Android Wear app can also help people find their car and call for roadside assistance. Extra cool is the fact that many of these functions can be performed via voice commands on the smartwatch. Kind of like Dick Tracy talking into his wrist watch.
14. Automated Valet Parking
You know that self-driving, automated cars are coming. But exactly how far are we, as a society, going to take this technology? The answer is pretty incredible. In the not too far off future, we will likely see automated valet parking at high-end restaurants and other venues. What would this mean exactly? Well, many cars on the roads today can already park themselves. Automated parking assist even comes standard in many vehicles. It seems logical that the next step would be for cars to not only park themselves but for them to also find a parking spot on their own. The technology that will render all this possible is what’s known as “vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.” Basically, a high-tech parking garage will talk to the car through a network and tell it where an open parking spot is available. After dropping off passengers at the entrance to the parking garage, the car will then drive and park itself in an available spot as communicated to the car by the parking garage. In order to retrieve the car, the owner just needs to call it from a smartphone or smartwatch. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.
13. Side Collision Prevention
Many makes and models of cars today have collision warning systems and blind spot detectors. But these systems are almost exclusively placed at the front and rear of vehicles. Now, car companies are taking things to the next level with side collision prevention systems. These would be radar systems integrated into the side of cars that would help drivers to avoid sideswiping or turning into objects – notably when parking. These systems could reportedly also help cars to detect pedestrians, bicycles and oncoming vehicles before the driver sees them. Where things get freaky is when you learn that this technology would also enable the cars to automatically course correct, make adjustments, or turn to avoid an accident without the driver being involved in the decision or action.
12. Three Dimensional (3D) Gestures
Remember the movie Minority Report, where actor Tom Cruise’s character would control computers and devices just by waving his hands? He could move computer screens around simply by waving his hands side-to-side. Well, similar technology is being developed for cars. In the future, rather than having to fiddle with touchscreens, buttons and joy sticks, people are likely to be able to control their cars functions simply with hand gestures. It is called “3D gestures,” or “3D gesturing,” and it will allow people to open and close the windows in their cars by waving their hands up and down, answer an incoming telephone call by pointing at the dashboard and shut the engine off by waving their hand over the steering column. Efforts are underway at auto companies to integrate 3D gestures with voice commands so that people can literally control their vehicles without having to take their eyes off the road.
11. Car-to-Car Communication
We know that automated and self-driving cars are going to have to communicate with one another in order to operate properly. But how far will communication between cars go? Pretty far as it turns out. Down the road, so to speak, cars will be able to alert one another of accidents, road blocks and even bad weather conditions such as icy highways and snow banks. What’s crazy is that all of this will occur apart from the occupants of a vehicle. The cars will be communicating with each other, providing important information, and helping other vehicles to stay safe and steer clear of danger without ever discussing it with the vehicle’s human occupants, or even without the occupants knowing. This is truly impressive technology that takes us all one step closer to the age of Skynet.
10. Biometric Car Access
If you thought keyless entry and push button ignition were neat features on your car, you haven’t seen anything yet. In the very near future, motorists will be unlocking their cars using their fingerprints or eyeball. All the major automotive manufacturers are now working on fingerprint readers and retina scanners to identify the owners of a vehicle and get cars to open and start without people having to do anything more than place their finger on a door handle or look through a window. This type of biometric access is being adapted from the latest security technology being used in cell phones. And these types of unique identification and security features should be available on cars and other vehicles very shortly. The future is now!
9. Reconfigurable Vehicles
Imagine a truck that can reconfigure into a sport utility vehicle and vice-versa. Sound a bit like a Transformer? Well, engineers are now working on this exact concept with small sized SUVs and trucks. The idea is to take an SUV with lightweight body panels and advanced motors, retract the roof and side glass into the lower body panels, add in stow-and-go seats and then move these parts around to reconfigure the SUV into a truck, or change the truck back into an SUV. People who own this type of futuristic vehicle will literally have two vehicles in one. While this idea may sound pretty radical, and a little far-fetched, it is in the design phase and could appeal to people who love both trucks and SUVs. Autobots, roll out!
8. Remote Vehicle Shutdown
Technology to remotely shut down a car, truck or other type of vehicle already exists and is used quite often by OnStar and police departments throughout North America who, at the click of a button, are able to completely disable a stolen car. Various telematics companies have shut down hundreds of stolen cars, ending police chases quickly and safely in the process. But now, car makers are considering making the ability to remotely shut down any car a standard feature in all their vehicle makes and models. This will give car owners the power to stop their car from being stolen themselves—much to the chagrin of television newscasts who love to film highway hot pursuits from helicopters.
7. Driver Health Monitoring
At automotive shows over the past year, the Ford Motor Company previewed the concept of a seatbelt or steering wheel equipped with sensors that track the vital statistics of the person driving one of their cars. The technology will not only alert the vehicle’s driver and passengers if the health of the driver becomes compromised due to a heart attack or other emergency, but the cars will be programmed to pull over onto the side of the road, shut down and call paramedics in the event of a dangerous health situation. This is a great innovation that has the potential to save countless lives. What will they think of next?
6. Personalized In-Car Marketing
While cool, this innovation has the potential to be extremely annoying. Car makers and leading marketing firms are working to develop personalized in-car marketing techniques similar to what was shown in the movie Minority Report, starring actor Tom Cruise. The idea builds on the fact that people already receive Facebook, Twitter and Gmail ads based on their consumer behavior and shopping preferences. And what more captive audience could there be than people who are strapped into a moving vehicle? By 2020 almost every new car sold will be fully connected to the internet, and marketers naturally see an opportunity and powerful set of metrics that they can use to customize their sales pitches to people. Critics are already claiming that such ads delivered inside a moving car could be a huge distraction and potential safety risk. They are calling on vehicle manufacturers to develop this innovation with an opt-in feature, at the very least. However, it seems like it is only a matter of time before we’re all receiving ads on our car’s dashboard.
5. Built-In Vehicle Tracking
This technology is being pushed by automotive insurance companies that are tired of customers who claim that they only use their car for leisure purposes, but actually use it to commute to and from work five days a week. The technology would allow insurers to track all the movements and miles driven by a car. Some state governments in the U.S. are considering legislation that would enable car insurers to charge fees based on how many miles a person drives. And insurance companies have discussed offering reduced rates for people who agree to full tracking of their driving. This seems a bit Orwellian and the conventional wisdom is that most motorists will balk at having their every movement tracked and monetized by an insurance company. But comprehensive driver tracking is being pushed hard by many insurance companies. Scary but true.
4. Four Cylinder Supercars
The Ford Motor Company has become one of the most innovative car makers in the world, as evidenced by their new GT supercar that runs on a four cylinder twin-turbo engine that produces 600 horsepower. Although some automotive critics have complained about a lightweight vehicle with a smaller engine under the hood, the reality is that a smaller, lighter supercar with a four cylinder engine is the future and provides exceptional performance, especially when the car’s body is made of ultra lightweight carbon fiber. Most automotive magazines expect that by 2020 there will be a number of supercars with four-cylinder engines that can go 200-plus miles per hour. Impressive, but what about the drag racers?
3. Active Window Displays
The idea of projecting information onto the windshield of a car for the driver to see is not new. Known as Heads-Up Display, or HUD, this technology has been around since the early 1990s. However, it has had only limited appeal due to the fact that the display on the windshield was dimly lit, cast in hard to see colors and created blurry digits and images. Today, the Heads-Up Display technology is better than ever before. However, car companies and futurists are predicting that by 2020, HUD will be used in most vehicles and will feature active glass capable of displaying vibrant, realistic images. Some people are calling the newer version of HUD “Augmented Reality Dashboards.” Navigation systems are being developed to highlight the next turn seen from the driver’s perspective as the turn is being approached. The uses for Heads-Up Display technology are limitless, according to some engineers and scientists.
2. Airbags That Actively Stop Cars
Airbags are the greatest safety feature in cars since brake pedals were installed. And since airbags made their debut more than 30 years ago, more and more of them have been added inside our cars. Today we have side airbags, knee airbags, seat belts airbags and even airbags that deploy underneath car seats. Now, Mercedes-Benz is working on a new way to use airbags that moves them away from being a passive safety measure and makes them more active when it comes to stopping a car. Specifically, Mercedes-Benz is experimenting with airbags that deploy underneath the car and stop it dead in its tracks before a crash occurs. The airbags would deploy when sensors determine that an impact is imminent. These new, high-tech airbags have a friction coating on them that helps slow the car down and can double the stopping power of a car. The active airbags would also lift the vehicle eight centimeters off the road or highway, which would improve bumper-to-bumper contact and help prevent passengers from sliding underneath seat belts during a collision.
1. Driver Override Technology
This is another technology that is potentially scary. Engineers are working on technology that will give cars the ability to override their driver and take control of the vehicle—whether any of us like it or not. There are cars on the market today that will apply the brakes themselves if the driver does not. This technology is billed as a safety feature. But in the future, more advanced autonomous technology will give cars the power to willfully disregard their driver and their commands, and make its own decisions. (Wasn’t this the plot of the book Christine by Stephen King?) By 2020, it is expected that most cars on the road will be equipped with autonomous technology that will allow them to apply the brakes even if the driver has the gas pedal pushed down to the floor. This means that the car will have final say over what happens, not the driver. Cool, but a little creepy. Even scarier, the same technology could also let cars communicate to each other on the road without the knowledge of the drivers involved, enabling two or more cars to make decisions independent of their drivers and do as they see fit on roads and highways. C-r-a-z-y.